On the Eastern Plains, where the manufacturer started making innovative "precision-ag" technology long before the buzz, CEO Erik Tribelhorn has remade the operation for the 21st century.
Yuma-area farmer Gary Newton founded Agri-Inject based on technology he created for his own operation.
"Irrigation was becoming very popular back then," says Erik Tribelhorn, a co-owner who became the company's CEO in 2011 after a dozen years away from the company's day-to-day operations. ”[Newton] recognized the ability of an irrigation system to do more than one thing." He started using his to deliver fertilizer, says Tribelhorn, and "lo and behold, a business was born."
Three decades later, Agri-Inject's technology continues to offer "a lot of opportunities to be more efficient to get water and and fertilizer and chemicals to that plant exactly where they need to," says Tribelhorn.
"The buzzword is precision agriculture," he adds. "That's been our focus since 1983. Precision ag has been our centerpiece the whole time."
The company makes a wide range of fertilizer pumps, tank-based units, proportional injection controls (branded Reflex), and app-based control software.
New in 2014, Reflex has been a sales driver. "The fertilizer pump needs to slow down or speed up to deliver the same parts per million," explains Tribelhorn. "Our Reflex does that and a whole lot more. Reflex is really gaining popularity people are recognizing the need to be more precise."
It's especially popular with growers using center-pivot irrigation systems. The circular spray misses the corners. While automated arms add more coverage, the rate of flow is more variable. Reflex can solve that by adjusting the proportions of fertilizer and chemicals for constant delivery, says Tribelhorn.
The demand is nationwide and not dependent on climate. "We do business in 43 states," says Tribelhorn. "Our competitive advantage is that we have a lot of different products in terms of features and options. . . . We have more combinations of products than anybody on the market and we have the ability to deliver in 48 hours."
With 26,000 square feet of space, production staff handles assembly and an increasing amount of component manufacturing.
"Two years ago, we brought in rotational molding three years ago," says Tribelhorn. "Three years ago, we brought metalwork in-house." The moves have improved "quality control and lead time and price," he adds. "We were paying a little more than we should have."
There's another bonus from insourcing component manufacturing. "It just gives us a sense of pride that we're doing this ourselves," says Tribelhorn.
Tribelhorn has also spearheaded an ongoing "plant makeover" at Agri-Inject. The push for modernization was a necessity, he says. "We had to. We couldn't keep up with sales with the existing methodology."
Implementation of Lean processes has solved that problem, and the facility "is now a showcase," he says. "We like to bring in customers and vendors and take them on a tour."
The changes have paid off. "Since 2011, we've doubled in revenue," says Tribelhorn. "The thing about our product is it's an efficiency gainer. . . . It should work as good in a down market as an up one. ” The payback "should be less than a year," he touts. "It's a no-brainer."
Challenges: "In our mission statement, the main verb that is our impetus is to educate," notes Tribelhorn. "We always have that challenge of educating the growers that this technology works."
But that task can be more complicated than it sounds. "We have to educate the distributor to educate the grower."
Opportunities: Tribelhorn cites "the conversion of the non-believer" is Agri-Inject's prime opportunity. There are about 250,000 center-pivot irrigation systems in the U.S., he says, and the company has plenty of room to grow in that market with Reflex and other products.
International sales are another opportunity. "We're trying to grow our export business," says Tribelhorn, noting that exports currently account for five to 10 percent of sales. "I'd like to see that grow to 35 to 40 percent. . . . We get requests from all over the world, from the Middle East to Eastern Europe, Russia, China."
Needs: "We have a little bit of a challenge being in Yuma, Colorado," says Tribelhorn. Being 140 miles east of Denver, he explains, "It's not like we can hire a Lean consultant and get them in here the next day, or a machinist." The flip side to the shallow labor pool? "People here know what a hard day of work is, so there's a plus to that, too."
He's also looking at bringing even more manufacturing processes in-house. "I'd like to bring in injection molding and CNC equipment at some point."